You are here

Log in or register to post comments
sbkrige
sbkrige's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 23 2008 - 5:03pm
Developing Critical Listening

I've been ripping CD's to my computer at different qualities and playing the same song with different bit rates, and I can definitely hear the difference between the higher and lower quality rips, but I have trouble describing and isolating what exactly are the differences.
I can also do the test on random (so not knowing if I'm listening to the higher or lower quality rip) and I can still tell which one is the better one or not (up to a certain extent, I limited buy my equipment at the higher quality).
I also did a test with playing my CD's and listening through different headphone and earphones and speakers, and once again I can hear different, but I can't really describe what they are, I don't know what exactly the differences are technically, although I can hear the difference between good and bad sound.

Any advice for developing critical listening?

michiganjfrog
michiganjfrog's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jan 9 2007 - 11:36pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
I've been ripping CD's to my computer at different qualities and playing the same song with different bit rates, and I can definitely hear the difference between the higher and lower quality rips, but I have trouble describing and isolating what exactly are the differences.
I can also do the test on random (so not knowing if I'm listening to the higher or lower quality rip) and I can still tell which one is the better one or not (up to a certain extent, I limited buy my equipment at the higher quality).
I also did a test with playing my CD's and listening through different headphone and earphones and speakers, and once again I can hear different, but I can't really describe what they are, I don't know what exactly the differences are technically, although I can hear the difference between good and bad sound.

Any advice for developing critical listening?

Yeah. Keep doing exactly what you're doing. You're already further than many so called "pro audio" gearheads, if you can differentiate between mp3 bitrates above 128kpbs.

JSBach
JSBach's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 28 2008 - 1:25am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
Any advice for developing critical listening?

Yes. Attend live concerts of acoustic, un-amplified instruments then return to your hi-fi gear ASP and compare.
I notice Mr/Ms/Miss Bohemianism you advise us to 'Turn on, tune in & drop out'. Love to but having lived through that era I know we can't get the quality and type of drug Mr Hendrix took with his breakfast cereal . And don't try and tell me ice or anything like it is a substitute for LSD. It ain't honey child.

sbkrige
sbkrige's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 23 2008 - 5:03pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

I've been setting a bit of time at night (when it's quiet) before I go to bed, to really focus of listening to music critically, I've gotten better, but I still have a way to go knowing exactly what the differences are, such as 'bass is tighter is recording A compared to recording B', or the 'songs a bit flat here'. Hopefully with the advice given so far, and the advice I'll still get I can develop this.
LSD and 'Shrooms and marijuanna are still around, I don't see how those are any different to the past. But anyway enough about illegal things. My signature is also there because I'm a fan of Aldous Huxley, Ken Kessey, and Alan Ginsberg's work and they are all ties into that phrase and Timothy Leary and what it represents.

ncdrawl
ncdrawl's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 7 months ago
Joined: Oct 18 2008 - 9:18am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

these courses are excellent for developing critical listening skills:

http://www.moultonlabs.com/full/product01/

http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Listening-Skills-Audio-Professionals/dp/1598630237

i use them both every day, and my ears are much better for it.

ncdrawl
ncdrawl's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 7 months ago
Joined: Oct 18 2008 - 9:18am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
You're already further than many so called "pro audio" gearheads, if you can differentiate between mp3 bitrates above 128kpbs.

keep your chest thumping garbage out of this thread, frog.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Hola, thanks for a great topic!

I'd add listening and 'breaking down' what you hear.

Focus on the bass line and see if you can follow the bassist through a tune.

Then, just concentrate on drums, cymbals, violin, etc.

As you get used to following along with a small subsection of the sound, I think it will make it easier to pick up on and describe differences.

Example: Following an acoustic bass in a jazz piece, you may find the line disappears in parts on some systems, and hangs better on others.

Also, listening for harmony vocals can be amazingly fun. Sometimes, your brain just takes in the total sound, and sometimes it likes to focus on the interplay of the voices.

As you 'break down' your listening into parts, you'll be better able to decide about detail, too.

Best wishes.

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

I'm still of the opinion "critical listening" is largely a waste of one's time, energy and intelligence. That's not to disparage the people who do it for a living but that accounts for just a very small percentage of us. In even those instances too many times the cart is placed before the horse and the effect of the music the system reproduces is all but forgotten in order to discuss the sound itself.

You have "X" amount of time on this Earth. You have "Y" amount of time to listen to music you enjoy. You have "Y x ?%" of that time to listen to reproduced music.

Use your time wisely.

Just listen. The more you get involved in judging your system or the sound it produces the less time you'll spend enjoying the music it provides. IMO the most difficult thing for most "audiophiles' is to sit and listen to music and not judge (and all too often nitpick) the system's sound whether the system is their's or it belongs to someone else. Once you fall into the habit of judging, listening for enjoyment will forever more be hopelessly your second choice. You'll be listening to music you really enjoy and before you know it - BAM! - you'll find yourself not intersted in the music because you're sitting there judging the performance of the system.

It's a waste of time I tell you.

What are you going to do if your system has "brittle" highs? Stop listening? Buy something new? Call your friend in the middle of the night to tell him about what you've heard? Worry? Spend your next few days searching the internet for the solution?

There's a glossary of terms on this site, go to the search function and enter "glossary" to access it. If you need to know what you've just heard, that's as good a place as any to begin. But who are you going to tell that the sound was not as "silvery" as you'd like?

I'm all for knowledge of how your system operates and how to discuss its benefits and pitfalls but there's a time and place for everything. If I have "Y x ?%" of it to just sit and enjoy muisc, that's what I'd choose to do. The rest will come as you listen and enjoy. It's like learning how to cook, you only learn it by doing it. You only do it well by tasting the end result not reading about it.

JIMV
JIMV's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Jan 31 2008 - 1:46pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
What are you going to do if your system has "brittle" highs? Stop listening? Buy something new? Call your friend in the middle of the night to tell him about what you've heard? Worry? Spend your next few days searching the internet for the solution?

Well that's what I do. If I find a flaw, I hunt for an affordable way to make it go away. It is part of the hobby.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:

Quote:
What are you going to do if your system has "brittle" highs? Stop listening? Buy something new? Call your friend in the middle of the night to tell him about what you've heard? Worry? Spend your next few days searching the internet for the solution?

Well that's what I do. If I find a flaw, I hunt for an affordable way to make it go away. It is part of the hobby.

I'd vote for developing listening skills and identifying the brittle highs in advance and not buying whatever piece of kit produced those brittle highs.

To me, developing listening skills is sort of a shopping skill! Listening skills are preventative!

Plus, I think it's fun.

JIMV
JIMV's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Jan 31 2008 - 1:46pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:

Quote:

Quote:
What are you going to do if your system has "brittle" highs? Stop listening? Buy something new? Call your friend in the middle of the night to tell him about what you've heard? Worry? Spend your next few days searching the internet for the solution?

Well that's what I do. If I find a flaw, I hunt for an affordable way to make it go away. It is part of the hobby.

I'd vote for developing listening skills and identifying the brittle highs in advance and not buying whatever piece of kit produced those brittle highs.

To me, developing listening skills is sort of a shopping skill! Listening skills are preventative!

Plus, I think it's fun.

That requires living somewhere that allows one to listen before the purchase and having enough money to buy new. I have not been able to 'audition' anything I have bought in years.

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
Well that's what I do. If I find a flaw, I hunt for an affordable way to make it go away. It is part of the hobby.

That's what I'm talking about, "finding flaws". I have no problem with anyone upgrading their system to reproduce music as best they can afford. However, finding flaws is what audiophiles do best it would seem. Sitting there in the dark, usually all alone, listening and judging the system is all too often what keeps audiophiles interested IMO. Why do readers clamor for negative reviews? They want those flaws to be there, it's good to see a product get brought up short every now and then.

As Buddha's one thread indicates once that flaw is detected it takes quite sometime for some people to "shake it off". So what have you accomplished by constantly judging your system's performance? A headache. And some people never shake it off until they've bought the next component or speaker or cable or whatever. And then their time spent with their system is more about listening for the latest upgrade than it is anything else. It becomes a Catch 22 of the system can't sound right until the next upgrade and then the next upgrade must be judged which leads to the next upgrade and then the next. If you don't get off that habit, you'll endlessly have a system that isn't good enough no matter how good it gets. Better to never get on that upgrade trail in the first place.

It just seems like such a waste when there's so much music that needs to be heard. I thought the hobby was supposed to be about loving music and the gear was a means to an end not the other way around.

JSBach
JSBach's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 28 2008 - 1:25am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Wise words Jan, in fact when I read of hi-fidelity being a 'hobby' my radar switches on. How to explain that? Well, I've up-graded, and even successfully 'downgraded' more times than I can remember but for me the measure of success is how often the enjoyment of music prevents me putting on my critical audiophile hat. Thankfully that's most of the time these days and would be more so if it wasn't for crappy recordings and the viral spread of compression, MP3 etc.

I refuse to use that awful American expression 'Happy Holiday" YUK! So, even though I'm not a Christian I wish you all here a Happy Christmas

"Let the music take me away." Sissily Mordentroge

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
I'd vote for developing listening skills and identifying the brittle highs in advance and not buying whatever piece of kit produced those brittle highs.

To me, developing listening skills is sort of a shopping skill! Listening skills are preventative!

I'd say what you're describing is developing "priorities". What you can live with and what you cannot live without because everything is a compromise.

Learning how to listen "critically" is quite another matter. You do that to write a review, design/sell equipment or pass a DBT. None of those have much to do with music.

Priorities are something you can possess without ever hearing a decent audio system. Priorities should come from listening to good live music and not from any audio system. "Brittle", "silvery", "warm", "bright" "air" ambient clues", etc. should all be in your set of priorities that go with knowing how an instrument sounds in a real acoustic space. You don't need to know them by name, you just need to know whether you can live with them or not. You won't realize you don't like Chinese parsley until you know the taste of Chinese parsley doesn't appeal to you.

If you know what a piano, guitar, horn, kazoo, etc. sounds like played live a few feet away from you, you won't pick a system with "brittle" highs unless constrained by budget. If you can trade occasionally "brittle" highs for rolled off highs or the other way 'round, then you have your priorities. If you have priorities you can pick a good system. Critical listening skills and the glossary that completes them merely allow you to describe what you hear to someone who might be interested. Most people are not but many people will be willing to discuss their favorite music with you.

Get your priorities straightened out by listening and listening and then listening some more and everything else will fall into place without worry about how critically you can listen.

dcstep
dcstep's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 16 2007 - 4:59pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

There's lots of good advice so far. Go to live performances and compare to your recordings. Follow an instrument or line all the way through. Look at those listed courses.

Just don't expect to jump over a bunch of steps. It's an iterative process. A trusted guide can help you make relatively large leaps in fidelity without have to try every step along the way, but ultimately equipment selection, to suit your taste, is a trial and error proposition.

I think Jan is wrong to dismiss critical listening. When you're making recordings, for example, you want to get the best recording possible and don't want to do anything you'll regret later, whether you're a pro or not. (Like recording in mp3 would be a mistake for most of us on this site). So there are times when you need to address how the system sounds.

Jan's right that this should ultimately be about the music and relaxing and enjoying the music, but when you are considering a choice of different equipment or software, it's useful to have some skills that help you identify strengths and weaknesses. If you've never worked at it, then you'll not be ready when it's time to make a decision.

Dave

JIMV
JIMV's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Jan 31 2008 - 1:46pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

For me it is simple...do I put down the book and pick up the wine for a listen or does the music simply enhance that book. When I define a flaw in my system I find myself doing a lot more reading than listening. When I get rid of the flaw, the book often goes as well.(the wine remains)

sbkrige
sbkrige's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 23 2008 - 5:03pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
I'm still of the opinion "critical listening" is largely a waste of one's time, energy and intelligence. That's not to disparage the people who do it for a living but that accounts for just a very small percentage of us. In even those instances too many times the cart is placed before the horse and the effect of the music the system reproduces is all but forgotten in order to discuss the sound itself.

You have "X" amount of time on this Earth. You have "Y" amount of time to listen to music you enjoy. You have "Y x ?%" of that time to listen to reproduced music.

Use your time wisely.

Just listen. The more you get involved in judging your system or the sound it produces the less time you'll spend enjoying the music it provides. IMO the most difficult thing for most "audiophiles' is to sit and listen to music and not judge (and all too often nitpick) the system's sound whether the system is their's or it belongs to someone else. Once you fall into the habit of judging, listening for enjoyment will forever more be hopelessly your second choice. You'll be listening to music you really enjoy and before you know it - BAM! - you'll find yourself not intersted in the music because you're sitting there judging the performance of the system.

It's a waste of time I tell you.

What are you going to do if your system has "brittle" highs? Stop listening? Buy something new? Call your friend in the middle of the night to tell him about what you've heard? Worry? Spend your next few days searching the internet for the solution?

There's a glossary of terms on this site, go to the search function and enter "glossary" to access it. If you need to know what you've just heard, that's as good a place as any to begin. But who are you going to tell that the sound was not as "silvery" as you'd like?

I'm all for knowledge of how your system operates and how to discuss its benefits and pitfalls but there's a time and place for everything. If I have "Y x ?%" of it to just sit and enjoy muisc, that's what I'd choose to do. The rest will come as you listen and enjoy. It's like learning how to cook, you only learn it by doing it. You only do it well by tasting the end result not reading about it.

Reading things around the place I have definitely noticed some people tend to be so focused on being critical and perfecting their system searching they don't actually enjoy the music, which really sounds good through what they have.
I did make a pretty conscience decision not to be like that, I'm doing this because I like music.
A similar example would be I regularly go to the movies (a love that nearly rivals music (although music is more of a constant presence for everything in life)) now the is a room that cost ten's of thousand's (even more) of dollars specifically to display films. But I still enjoy watching movies on my T.V. which isn't very good at all, even though pales in comparison, because the movie is still enjoyable.
I mainly want to develop some basic skill in critical listening as it'll help me distinguish the difference between products as I head into buying things. I also it will help me further appreciate the system I end up having. I want to develop my critical listening to increase my appreciation of a system, not systematically exploit all it's flaws.

mrlowry
mrlowry's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 3 months ago
Joined: May 30 2006 - 1:37pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

As Yoda said, "You must un-learn what you have learned." By that I mean re-train your brain to NOT fill in missing information that the unconscious usually fills in automatically. Only by knowing what is missing can you know what to add. Make sure that you can turn that ability off though so that you can listen to music and enjoy it. The ability to critically listen is only useful when making purchasing decisions or tweaking, other than that it can be a detriment.

JSBach
JSBach's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 28 2008 - 1:25am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Way, way off topic MrLowry but, having perused your CV as given on your blog,<http://audioexplorer.blogspot.com/ > I just have to ask what on earth is "Monster Cable Evangelist Training" as listed under Relevant Summits, Seminars, & Other Training.
The mind boggles!

smejias
smejias's picture
Offline
Last seen: 4 years 4 days ago
Joined: Aug 25 2005 - 10:29am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
Hola, thanks for a great topic!

I'd add listening and 'breaking down' what you hear.

Focus on the bass line and see if you can follow the bassist through a tune.

Then, just concentrate on drums, cymbals, violin, etc.

As you get used to following along with a small subsection of the sound, I think it will make it easier to pick up on and describe differences.

Example: Following an acoustic bass in a jazz piece, you may find the line disappears in parts on some systems, and hangs better on others.

Also, listening for harmony vocals can be amazingly fun. Sometimes, your brain just takes in the total sound, and sometimes it likes to focus on the interplay of the voices.

As you 'break down' your listening into parts, you'll be better able to decide about detail, too.

Buddha took the words right out of my mouth -- probably because he's the one who taught me this technique three years ago. It works for me. When trying to better understand the differences I'm hearing between components or formats, I'll use a piece of music I'm familiar with and I'll focus on a very specific aspect of a song -- it might be a voice or a bell or the high-hat or the feedback from a guitar, anything at all that is distinct and easy to recognize.

I agree with Jan in that this sort of listening has little to do with music. It's more about sound. But discerning differences between simple sounds can sometimes provide greater understanding of what you're hearing in general, which can then lead to a better understanding of the components in question, and consequently help you to select the components which will lead to the most happiness and fun.

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
I agree with Jan in that this sort of listening has little to do with music.

That's not exactly what I said. My hestitance is toward "critical listening'. The sort of "follow a line" type of listening described by Buddha is what we all do as far as I know. We listen with some intensity to our favorite vocalist to hear the nuances and inflections they employ, to notice how they get ahead of or lag behind the beat to make an expressive statement.

Listening to a top notch band or orchestra that is familiar with every player's intentions and the choices they might make is a wonderful way to listen to the interplay of musicians and the lines they pull together whether the band is The Grateful Dead or the orchestra is Count Basie's.

Personally I begin to follow Paul Motian's cymbal work and find I must make an effort to pull my attention back to the rest of the music being performed. And the interjection of new talent with old is what gave J.L. Hooker some of his best performances in his later years. Listening to well established artists such as Bonnie Raitte and Carlos Santanna play while sitting in obvious awe of Hooker is a treat.

This, however, is not "critical listening" IMO. This is nothing more than exploring the performers and their performances and comes down to listening to music with intent and focus on the performance. That is the resason for owning a more transparent to the source audio system in the first place, is it not?

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

That's fair. I guess when you listen that way in an environment where you are trying to identify gear that is 'more transparent,' it becomes critical listening!

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
That's fair. I guess when you listen that way in an environment where you are trying to identify gear that is 'more transparent,' it becomes critical listening!

For you possibly.

Not for me.

gkc
gkc's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Feb 24 2006 - 11:51am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Instead of "describing and isolating," try listening and integrating.

Remember, "...All art aspires to the condition of music..." (Pater, I believe), not to the condition of numbers, blips, or bad prose. Take the direct route to the music. And from it.

You can hear the difference between "good and bad sound." But you can't "...really describe what they are..."

Listening is more important than describing. If you love music, trust me on that one.

You "...don't know what exactly the differences are technically," yet, you "...can hear the difference between good and bad sound."

I think you just answered your own question.

Anyone who turns his or her ears, heart, and mind over to an oscilloscope (or any other measuring instrument) that is at least once removed from the listening and enjoyment of music deserves a lifetime of uncertainty and insecurity.

Welcome to audio hell.

But wait! There is still time! Go to a live concert. Hide no measuring tools within your backpack. Remember what you hear.

Repeat as needed.

You are at a crossroads. You can either enjoy music, for the rest of your life, or become a neurotic blip-freak.

Good luck, and happy tunes.

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
You are at a crossroads.

A powerful metaphor from Robert Johnson.

Stand at the crossroads waiting for the Devil to appear.

Make the deal, your soul for the ability to describe what you hear.

gkc
gkc's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Feb 24 2006 - 11:51am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Jan, tell me more about this "Robert Johnson." He interests me.

I wrote my dissertation on another Johnson, Lionel, because he was a classicist in an era of relativists, and I (at the time) thought he was tilting at the wrong side of the windmills. Of course, I was wrong. But mistakes often lead to the most interesting journeys.

Besides, he died (legend has it...nobody has since proved otherwise) from falling off a bar stool.

Now, who could resist that ?? Certainly, not I.

Tell me more about Robert, and the devil. Blake said that you can choose to delude yourself with the Bible of Heaven, if you have the time, but you "...shall have" the Bible of Hell, whether you want it or not.

For me, the Bible of Heaven is the Bible of Blips and bit/byte produced readouts of what is verifiable and comfortable to think about. The Bible of Hell is what sounds good, is unverifiable, and requires no thought. Just attention.

Robert Johnson sounds like a good study, to me, if he met the devil at the crossroads and put his ear to the ground. Now, what devil could resist that approach?

I'm all ears.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:

Quote:
You are at a crossroads.

A powerful metaphor from Robert Johnson.

Stand at the crossroads waiting for the Devil to appear.

Make the deal, your soul for the ability to describe what you hear.

I say take both!

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
Quote:

Quote:

You are at a crossroads.

A powerful metaphor from Robert Johnson.

Stand at the crossroads waiting for the Devil to appear.

Make the deal, your soul for the ability to describe what you hear.

I say take both!

Obviously someone who doesn't listen to Robert Johnson.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:

Quote:
Quote:

Quote:

You are at a crossroads.

A powerful metaphor from Robert Johnson.

Stand at the crossroads waiting for the Devil to appear.

Make the deal, your soul for the ability to describe what you hear.

I say take both!

Obviously someone who doesn't listen to Robert Johnson.

Ah, but I do...on an open baffle full range speaker...and then I can describe the sound. (Or, try to......)

JIMV
JIMV's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Jan 31 2008 - 1:46pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:

Quote:
You are at a crossroads.

A powerful metaphor from Robert Johnson.

Stand at the crossroads waiting for the Devil to appear.

Make the deal, your soul for the ability to describe what you hear.

Audio Forums often remind me of another Johnson:

"I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you any understanding"

JasonVSerinus
JasonVSerinus's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 5 months ago
Joined: Apr 10 2006 - 11:22am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Poor Bohemianism. After asking for help, he's been treated to Robert Johnson, Samuel Johnson, and sufficient name-calling squabbles to put any dysfunctional nuclear family in a good light.

Thankfully, he's also received some good advice.

I'm going to give an example of what I think critical listening is about, and how it is NOT separate from enjoying the music.

I recently reviewed the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's latest Wigmore Hall Live release. (There are two in the series so far). Listening to the first of the Brahms Op. 57 songs on my reference system, which now includes a mix of Nordost Odin and Valhalla cabling, I for the first time heard a desperate pleading in her voice that seemed to emanate from the core of her being. Getting that much closer to such a great artist's source of creation means more to me than words can express.

Last weekend, I took the CD over to Tim Marutani. Tim is an audio consultant who is currently involved in testing different PC and Mac playback configurations, trying to find what yields the best sound. Using the fabulous Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha DAC, we compared a hard drive to a solid-state drive (better), iTunes to a not-yet-available, no one knows if it will become commercially available alternative for general use program (definitely better, especially on the highs where iTunes can be noisy), Media Monkey to another beta test program, and two different brands of PCs. (Some of these will be on display in various rooms at CES, although I do not know where. Nor can I answer questions about the program originators, manufacturers, etc.). In each case, the alternative yielded better, more analog-like sound.

The clincher for me was that, even with stock professional cables that delivered nowhere near the fullness of Nordost Odin, we arrived at one combination of solid-state drive and playback program that enabled me to hear at least some of the same emotional content in Hunt Lieberson's voice as I heard on my reference system. At that moment, I was able to turn to Tim and say, "That's the one."

To me, critical listening is not just about hearing which system gives me deeper and tighter bass. It's about which one draws me in more, and which one reveals more musical truth. I would rather sacrifice some bass and even midrange fullness if what I hear has a magical transparency that draws me in.

The ultimate reference? Live of course. Three weeks before Tim and I engaged in our experiments, we sat in premiere orchestra seats for the San Francisco Symphony. The experience was, as usual, revelatory. We carried that aural memory with us throughout the afternoon. I carried as well the experience of hearing Lorraine live, a few years before her death.

jason victor serinus

JSBach
JSBach's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 28 2008 - 1:25am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
.
I'm going to give an example of what I think critical listening is about, and how it is NOT separate from enjoying the music.


All true and well expressed JVS but there's a remaining mystery I've never solved. How is it I can be swept away by the emotion in something like Kathleen Ferrier's glorious performance on an ancient mono recording, with Bruno Walter & Julius Patzak, of Mahler's Das Lied von Der Erde despite all the sonic shortcomings of that boxy rendition? To support your view though Jan ( or possibly complicate it) I purchased my first Garrott Bros 'Optim' FGS cartridge on the strength of a review that claimed :- 'It may be bested by other more highly priced and exotic moving coils but this little moving magnet gets the emotion of the music right every time.' A similar claim in a review of the Meridian 808.2 CD player put that device on my auditioning list too. I've not regretted either purchase for a single digital or analogue second.

JasonVSerinus
JasonVSerinus's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 5 months ago
Joined: Apr 10 2006 - 11:22am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:

Quote:
.
I'm going to give an example of what I think critical listening is about, and how it is NOT separate from enjoying the music.


All true and well expressed JVS but there's a remaining mystery I've never solved. How is it I can be swept away by the emotion in something like Kathleen Ferrier's glorious performance on an ancient mono recording, with Bruno Walter & Julius Patzak, of Mahler's Das Lied von Der Erde despite all the sonic shortcomings of that boxy rendition?

Because Ferrier's voice was a direct channel to both her emotional being and to something greater than her individual being. The recording, thank god, did not box that in.

jason

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
At that moment, I was able to turn to Tim and say, "That's the one."

Jason, please go back to here in this thread ...
#56107 - 12/21/08 05:39 PM

I agree critical listen has its place, as in making the decisions you were engaged in last weekend. However, what I am against is developing a judgement system that you cannot switch off. That is what I see in too many audiophiles who, even when listening for "pleasure", are constantly judging their system or a specific component.

I've mentioned in another thread a concept I have of "concert ears" which is built around approaching each listening session just as you would a live performance. If you are critical of a live performance it is typically the skill or artistry or choices of the performer(s) you are criticizing not whether they had palpable space surrounding them, whether they sounded a bit forward or too laid back, and PRaT is not something I judge at a live performance. A live performance is what it is - the reference for all else.

Most audiophiles unfortunately cannot divorce the judgement of their system at any time, even to the extent of judging whether a live performance offers imaging and soundstaging, timbre and dynamics, etc. as well as their home system. There's something wrong when the system becomes the reference against which the live performance is judged.

In the thread where I discussed the "concert ears" exercise, I said it should not be considered successful until the listener has gone one entire week listening only to the music and not once thinking about the performance of their system. I would think that to be a very tough challenge for most audiophiles.

JasonVSerinus
JasonVSerinus's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 5 months ago
Joined: Apr 10 2006 - 11:22am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Everyone will listen as they will listen, Jan. Many people cannot sit through a concert without constantly leafing through the program. Others may at times or even often think about their sound systems. Others can't resist tapping their foot or conducting with their arms. I am not willing to declare unilaterally that there is only one true way to listen, and that is to focus solely on the music.

Besides, music often brings to mind a host of associations which can take us on journeys far from the notes themselves. If the experience brings people closer to a source of truth, whatever that truth may be for them, that works for me. I just ask that they do whatever they need to do quietly, so it doesn't disturb my own private experience.

jason victor serinus

gkc
gkc's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Feb 24 2006 - 11:51am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Jan, this thread has gotten abstract. "Critical listening" (as I see it) only comes into play when "Critical Economics" forces the choices between upgrading a home system (Vague dissatisfaction? Too much reading of review hyperbole? Specific dissatisfaction -- see Buddha's post on bad software? The dreaded time cycle -- "I've had this system a long time, and things SURELY have advanced technically since I last bought...") and simply enduring what you now have.

As to a wall street cliche, "this is where the rubber meets the road."

These are instances where "critical listening" comes into play. You have developed a love-hate relationship with your home music system. You love it when it "sends" you the way music OUGHT to "send" you, but you are dissatisfied when you throw on/in the occasional software that makes you think, "surely, I can do better than this."

"Critical listening" is thus a sort of slider for "I'm not sure if I like the way my current system plays my current software, so I think I'll start focusing on the details and see if I can buy some affordable improvements."

Good luck.

As I said, "critical listening" is dissatisfied listening. You want something, somehow, "better." You are vaguely dissatisfied with what you have and you want to spend well-spent money on upgrades.

I, nor anyone else, can help you. From my perspective, you have to check your budget and check your standards. Standards. Live? Some mental construct beyond "live"?

As Jason notes, we all have our own individual listening constructs.

But, from YEARS of experience, let me remind you. "Critical listening" will end up costing you some serious dough.

My advice? As I said, above. Be damned sure about what your standards are. How often do you attend live concerts? Are you chasing some sonic ideal that, by definition, doesn't exist? How does great music recorded badly fit into your own ideal scenario?

For me, the question is simple, and I agree with Jason. Go to live concerts. Pay attention when you connect. Seek a similar connection in your living room. Eschew oscillators.

Happy tunes.

JSBach
JSBach's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 28 2008 - 1:25am
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
I agree critical listen has its place, as in making the decisions you were engaged in last weekend. However, what I am against is developing a judgement system that you cannot switch off. That is what I see in too many audiophiles who, even when listening for "pleasure", are constantly judging their system or a specific component.


Something like 45 years ago I introduced a young friend to hi-fi ( in those days an AR turntable, Shure V15, Quad 22/202 amps and Tannoy 15" Gold corner horns). He became addicted to high fidelity but not music. He's now an audio reviewer (don't ask). I once made the mistake of inviting him and a group of his audiophile buddies around for a nights music. Little did I know they'd decided it would be a night of 'Let's see what this cable/interconnect etc does'. Not a single track of anything was listened to all the way through without someone whipping out another interconnect or cable to try out. That's the last time they were invited to my place for a 'music evening'. I can't feel sorry for them as they actually get a lot of enjoyment out of swapping bits and pieces all night, I just can't and won't join them. The other game they play is another one I'll never get my head around. They only ever play 'audiophile recordings' and don't appear to get sick of hearing the same narrow collection over and over and over.
One of these gents is very wealthy and changes his gear almost as often as he changes his underwear. He also has a huge collection of English amplifiers dating back to the 40's and is now starting to collect turntables and cartridges; all of these are kept as museum pieces and never used. But hey, he's happy. Go figure!

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Some of the great replies on this thread reminded me of this guy...

Extremes of another hobby.

I do wonder about how sometimes in this hobby, it can become more gear fetish than anything else.

We see it with wine, too.

The person in the linked article has been relentlessly building as fine a cellar as he can, and now plans on trying to ensure no one will ever be able to drink the wines he has accumulated; planning to build a museum to display his bottles full of wine - never to be enjoyed.

Maybe sometimes we do that (especially with LP's) and JS Bach's post about the 'audiophile' he knew sounded eerily similar to the wine guy's story.

Definitely right not to allow oneself to become a servant to the gear instead of the other way around!

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening


Quote:
Jan, this thread has gotten abstract.

I don't disagree but isn't that what "critical listening " is about? You are personally finding those elements which appeal to you and those that do not. Those are abstract ideas that are difficult to explain, so difficult a new vocabulay needed to be created just for the abstraction of "soundstage", "imaging", "dry", etc. And say many of those words to another audiophile and they still might not grasp just what it is you are trying to describe. So, yes, critical listening is very abstract. Enjoying music is not.


Quote:
"Critical listening" (as I see it) only comes into play when "Critical Economics" forces the choices between upgrading a home system (Vague dissatisfaction? Too much reading of review hyperbole? Specific dissatisfaction -- see Buddha's post on bad software? The dreaded time cycle -- "I've had this system a long time, and things SURELY have advanced technically since I last bought...") and simply enduring what you now have.

I don't totally disagree as to the use of critical listening skills when making a purchasing decision, however, I still contend they are useless 99% of the time to 99% of those involved in music reproduction in their home. It is the inability to shut off those cricial listening "skills" which drives someone to find they have listened to the same component for too long a time. Now, admittedly, this comes from someone who owns a pair of forty seven year old amplifiers that I have owned for over twenty five years. Much of that time I was actively engaged in the selling of audio equipment so I listened critically on most nights and a good part of each day. Maybe I'm the exception but I have never felt I have owned what I consider to be an excellent piece of equipment for too long a time.


Quote:
"Critical listening" is thus a sort of slider for "I'm not sure if I like the way my current system plays my current software, so I think I'll start focusing on the details and see if I can buy some affordable improvements."

I'm not understanding why I would blame my equipment for a problematic piece of software. As I stated in Buddha's thread on bad sounding discs, I really can't remember when I've had a disc that my system wasn't capable of playing for its musical value. Again, I might be the exception to the "audiophile" rulebooks here but I put together a system of components with the conviction that "music" does not change from year to year.

With that in mind, my system has been constructed around its ability to play the music and not to impress me with hifi tricks. Everyone who has heard my system has told me it performs those tricks quite well and I would have to agree for the most part judging from direct comparisons with some rather pricey gear. But I got over those hifi aspects of my system's performance many, many years ago.


Quote:
But, from YEARS of experience, let me remind you. "Critical listening" will end up costing you some serious dough.

Well, I have a few years of experience too. Possibly that is why I have no need for critical listening skills since I have no bank account that would support being unhappy just for the sake of being unhappy with my system. I know what my system can achieve, others also enjoy it and I fully understand what other systems can achieve in comparison. That knowledge has become my comfort zone for staying with what I own and just listening to the music.

I did however make a half way decent living for many years from those who just felt they had owned their components for too ling a time (that is how I acquired both of my McIntosh tube amplifiers) and I am grateful to those people for their unfailing critical listening skills.

ethanwiner
ethanwiner's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 2:26pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening *DELETED*

Post deleted by Stephen Mejias

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

JSB, I agree with most everything you've posted there.

I'll have a few friends over around the New Year's holiday and they want to hear my system again.

Not music.

They want to, as they say it, hear "my system" once again.

One of them has given me about 100 78's and the other is bringing his mother's collection of shellacs this time. They have no use for them. My gain.

Whenever they've listened to "my system" before, I get emails the next day telling me they bought the discs I played that did the best job of displaying those things audiophiles so highly prize.

Me? I'm left with Les Paul and Mary Ford doing "Bye Bye Blues" on 78.

sbkrige
sbkrige's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Nov 23 2008 - 5:03pm
Re: Developing Critical Listening

Wow this thread has really exapanded since I posed my origional question. I've really enjoyed reading the different opinions, thanks guys.

Sorry I've taken so long to reply, I went away for Christmas and did not have any internet, etc. Man it's great to get away from all our technological addictions sometimes, and just enjoy nothing but the company of those around you.

So having read all the information expounded in this thread, I've decided I'm going to take on the advice, and techniques given to increase my abilities to listen critically. Simultaneously I've taken on board the warnings given by those who say it detracts from just enjoying your music.
I'm definitely going to be consciously aware about shutting off and enjoying music most of the time, and just turning on a critical ear when it's useful.

I've already started isolating instruments, and parts of music and just concentrating on them, following them through the song.
I already go to quite a few live events, and listen to people play guitar and piano, etc, and I'll start taking note of what I hear more and referencing it back to my home listening.

Thanks for all the advice and help guys!

trevort
trevort's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Aug 21 2007 - 8:05am
Re: Developing Critical Listening

How delightful your post generated such response. I've been out of the loop -- too busy -- for several months, but on my return to the forum, this topic is the one that most interested me.

Some of the froth whipped up in response seems to be based on the meaning of the word "critical", which can mean both to find fault with and to be discriminating.

I take it your are interested more in the latter, as you are looking to be able to pinpoint/describe the differences you are able to discriminate in your listening.

Are you more interested in describing the difference you hear, or are you more interested in using the awareness to refine your system?

I like the recommendations to compare live performances to recordings, as my critical interest is to engage more fully in the musical experience. You can take that approach one step further and play an instrument yourself. Its amazing how that will bring you closer to the experience. You will even better appreciate the difference between your icon's stratocaster and a Les Paul, and as you fiddle with the controls, you will hear how the amp and processing (wah-wah!) have their impact. When you hear a performer, live or on recording, you'll be better equiped to decribe the difference between picking close to the bridge or up near the neck, for example.

And these differences are also found between audio systems, so you are further improving your discrimination.

A little expansion on the idea of following a voice instrument: This approach is useful for engagement, it helps to provide a focus, which is key to keeping your critical (discriminating) faculties in play.

I like to adopt the frame of mind that listening is an act of communication. The musicians are communicating to me, and thus I can engage with them as fellow beings. Following a line is to actively engage in that player's story. Being attentive to the interaction between players is to partake of the drama in their creative process. Perceiving the overall soundscape can be like appreciating the producer's perspective, sculpting the elements into a cohesive whole, including the balance and tone of the recording.

It is hard work to be so engaged, but pleasurable, and the resulting mindset enables you to be aware of what you are perceiving, and thus be able to articulate what you are perceiving.

In this way critical (discriminating) listening is different from being moved by the music. You are being moved, but you retain your consciousness at the same time, to understand what is happening to you. By understanding how the musicians are moving you, you understand better who they are, and the communication and experience becomes ever richer.

  • X
    Enter your Stereophile.com username.
    Enter the password that accompanies your username.
    Loading